Let me help you with your new year’s resolution. In a previous article I dealt with the exercises that help prevent the damage computers inflict upon the upper back. In this installment, I will deal with the main compound exercises you need to do to stay strong and fit.
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time. This type of exercise is the foundation of physical fitness — don’t try to become a body builder using isolation exercises if what you really need is functional strength and general fitness.
Isolation exercises work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time. Examples of isolation exercises include the biceps curl or the quadriceps extension. To get the most out of isolation exercises you must have a preexisting strength to protect the joint and to prevent injury to the related connective tissue.
Don’t fall into the trap that I see so often. A small man trying to become a big man. This guy gives-up on the compound exercises because they make him feel like he was hit by a freight train. He wants to be a big man like the body builders. He quickly discovers that the machines in the gym do all the body builder’s exercises and they are easier. He then starts to suffer injuries in and around the shoulders, knees, low back, and hips.
Compound exercises are tough work. To avoid the worst of the ‘I was hit by a freight train’ feeling you need realistic expectations and a proper set of progressions designed to get you to a realistic level of fitness and strength.
An exercise progression is one in which the workload is increased in predetermined steps. Ideally, the increments are sufficient to stimulate improvements but not great enough to cause damage.
Progressions are based upon the principle which states that fitness improves only when workloads are greater than those normally encountered. The workload can be quantified in terms of training intensity (rate of doing work which is usually the time allowed or number of repetitions) or training volume (the total amount of work done or most often the weight or resistance level). The principle applies to all aspects of fitness including strength, speed, and endurance of muscle contractions. It also applies to improvements in flexibility and the strength of bones, joints, and ligaments. This is normally called the overload principle.
Please notice the word ‘overload’. The progressions will leave somewhat sore. However, once you are able to do the the number of repetions that is your goal, then the soreness will go away. The number of repetions that is your goal becomes the ‘normal’ workload.
Squats, abdominal crunches, and push-ups are the most basic compound exercises. They are also the exercises that create the foundation of strength and endurance.
I’ll deal with the basic squat first.
A great example of a compound exercise is the squat exercise. This engages many muscles in the lower body and core, including the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the glutes, the lower back and the core.
Leg strength is often ignored by men. After all, who comments of how good a man’s legs look. This is a mistake because the legs and hip muscles account for over half the body’s weight. Building leg strength can lead to a decrease of overall body fat as the increased lean muscle mass will speed-up the metabolism.
The key to doing a sufficient number of squats is in the progressions. To be considered fit, you should be able to do 200 body-weight squats in one non-stop set.
The progressions found at Two Hundred Squats are well designed to accommodate a wide range of initial fitness levels. This site has several related sites, but I have reservations about the progressions offered for some of the other exercises.
I’ll try to do one article per week for the next few weeks. These articles will cover the basic body-weight compound exercises and suggestions regarding suitable progressions designed to achieve an adequate level of fitness.